Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 26 Mar 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970326.rpt
Sunday March 23
In the sunny periods between several rain showers I finish up some minor bike
maintenance tasks: straighten the crashbars, check and retorque most of the
nuts and bolts on the bike, and fix the seat latch so it catches. The helmet
lock I have mounted near the right-side passenger footpeg gets exposed to a
lot of dirt and dust and frequently is very difficult to operate as a result.
I fashion a boot out of silicon sealant to cover the keyhole and leave it to
dry. Finally I repair the GPS mount which had broken on the road into the
petrified forest. I first glue it with the superglue I had bought back in
Peru, then reinforce it with duct tape. We'll see how long that lasts, since
it is stressed each time I insert and remove the unit, twice a day. [As I
write this entry a month later, it lasted almost a month. The small spill I
took on the Carretera Austral south of Chaiten, apparently rebroke it at the
Monday March 24
By the time I get up at 7:45 the Aussies have packed up and left without me
hearing them. They had a 10AM plane to Buenos Aires to catch.
I pack up the tent and load the bike. I find that all my electrical
diagnoses the previous 2 days have resulted in a dead battery. I resort to
the kickstarter and after several minutes manage to get the bike started. So
that hunk of metal hanging off the left side of the tranny came in handy
after all. It's definitely worth having on a trip like this in my opinion.
I ride up behind town to where the chairlift goes up to the Martial Glacier,
but find that it is closed on Mondays. The weather is overcast and
questionable this morning anyways and I'm not sure how much I would have
seen. The mountain is shrouded in clouds. Actually the main reason I want
to take the chair lift up is not to see the glacier, which compared to other
glaciers I've seen and will see is supposed to be "unimpressive", but for
the view back down to Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel. I'll try again in
several days on my way back from the National Park.
I ride back down into town where I want to visit several of the museums. The
Territorial Museum, also known as End of the World Museum, is small but has
some interesting displays on the history of Ushuaia and its early settlers
as well as on the four tribes of native people who populated Tierra del Fuego
prior to the arrival of the Europeans, but are now largely extinct. Only a
handful of people from one of the tribes still are alive today. There are
also several displays of stuffed animals and birds found in the region. The
girl at the front desk has a Kawasaki 125 and says her boyfriend has a XR250.
She wishes me luck on the rest of my journey.
A couple of blocks away is the Museo Fuegian with free admission. It has a
display on the life and death, in 1996 I believe, of the last remaining
member of one of native Indian tribes. It really is a tragic storey of how
these peoples lives were adversely affected by the arrival of the white man.
Over the centuries they had adapted themselves and their lifestyle to the
adverse weather. Their nomadic lifestyle, constantly moving and reerecting
their shelters, and the relative lack of clothing they used, relying on
guanaco furs, insured their cleanliness and prevented the spread of disease.
After the white mans arrival they began to dress as he did and live in
permanent housing, and coupled with new diseases to which they had no
immunity, they quickly succumbed and their numbers quickly dwindled. It's a
story common to the Americas.
Upstairs, there was a reading room, well-stocked with books and magazines,
and a VCR with a dozen or so tapes on various historical and topical
subjects. I hung out there for a couple of hours, reading and watching
several videos, one showing how a team of anthropologists had recently built
one of the typical bark canoes used by the Indians of the area, but not seen
for over 60 years. They used numerous historical accounts by the early
explorers and settlers which described the canoes and how they were built. I
would later see this canoe in the Maritime Museum.
It was really hot inside and I got a headache, probably coupled with not
having breakfast this morning. I left and found a confiteria where I bought
some lunch, then bought some postcards and film, and found an ATM machine
where I replenished my supply of pesos.
Next I visit the Maritime Museum, which is located in the Presidio, the old
prison at the east end of town. It has displays describing the discovery and
exploration of Tierra del Fuego, the Straight of Magellan, the Beagle
Channel, and the other islands and waterways around Tierra del Fuego, and the
settlement and development of the island. The displays also covered the
exploration of Antarctica. The displays are augmented by beautiful 1/100
scale models of many of the ships which played a part in these events,
including several pesent-day icebreakers.
Another wing of the five-winged Presidio, in a section which at one time had
been one of the cell-blocks, was devoted to displays on the history of the
prison itself, and the small-guage railroad which transported prisoners to
work details in the surrounding countryside. That train today transports
tourists between Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego National Park 20km west on the
The second floor of the cell-block wing had more displays on the exploration
of Antarctica and the expeditions to the South Pole.
This museum, to me, was by far the most interesting of the three, and I was a
bit disappointed that I arrived as late as I did. It was already 5:30 and I
still had to buy some groceries, and ride 20km out to the National Park and
set up camp. I had to rush through the last part of the displays.
At the grocery store, a large supermarket, they sold only 4-packs of toilet
paper. This was the first time I faced this problem on this trip, and had to
stop at a small neighborhood market to buy a single roll for P0.50.
At the park, no one was in the booth at the entrance, and a man poked his
head out from the office at the side of the road and waved me through. The
park supposedly charged admission through the end of March. I campped at the
Lago Roca campground several km inside the park, the only "developed"
campsite of the six within the park, and the only one where you supposedly
had to pay, though I saw no one to whom to offer payment, and stayed for
free. There were more than 50 sites, with firerings and picnic tables, but
only 3 or 4 other tents. I camped in an area along the river draining the
lake, and had it all to myself.
Tuesday March 25
In the morning I used the kickstarter to loosen up the oil and get the bike
started with it. I stop at the confiteria at the campground to fill up my
water bags and go inside for a couple cups of cafe con leche and a pastry
while trying to bring my journal up to date. There I meet Devon Corey from
Massachusets. recently graduated from college, who is writing a book he
hopes to have published eventually. Several tour busses eventually arrive
and the place becomes crowded and noisy and I leave.
On the way out to the end of the road at Lapataia Bay I stop at several
places and do several short hikes. The Laguna Negra trail loops around an
old lake in the process of becoming a peat bog. Rabbits are all over the
place along this trail. Rabbits are not native to Tierra del Fuego, but were
introduced by the early settlers, and lacking few natural predators, quickly
The Lenga trail passed through an area of many lenga (beech) trees which were
in the process of changing colors. There are two types of lengas, the leaves
of one type turn red, while the others turn yellow. Very pretty. The trail
made its way to a small knoll offering a nice view out over Lapataia Bay and
to the Beagle Channel in the distance. On the way back I followed another
spur of the trail through an area of many dead beech trees, drowned by the
beaver ponds, but reached a point where the trail was closed for restoration
work, so I turned around and returned to the bike.
I rode on out to Lapataia Bay, the end of Route 3, and the furtherest south
one can drive on the South American continent. Actually I've always sort of
wondered about the technicality of that statement. Tierra del Fuego is an
island and a boat ride was required to get here. However south across the
Beagle Channel on Isla Navarino, there are several small towns, including
Puerto Williams, connected by a road, and it is possible to take a vehicle
over there, but not on any regularly scheduled boat or ferry. Maybe that's
the distinction, since the two ferries across the Strait of Magellan
operate on regular schedules. On the other hand there is no regularly
scheduled boat between Panama and Colombia. Hmmm.
At Lapataia Bay there is a large wooden sign announcing that this is the end
of National Route 3 and giving the distances to Buenos Aires (3063 km) and
to Alaska (17848 km). Another sign shows the roads in the southern part of
Tierra del Fuego and a big arrow pointing to the end of Route 3 at Lapataia
I meet Seiji, a bicyclist from near Tokyo, Japan. He started his trip in
Cusco last June. I ask him to take the required photos of me and the bike in
front of the wooden sign. The bike odometer reads 70901 miles, some 23000
miles, and 7 months and 11 days after leaving California! While this trip
had many reasons and goals, one major goal was to ride to the end of the
road on Tierra del Fuego, and now I've accomplished that. Even if my trip
were to end tomorrow for some reason, while I'd be disappointed, I'd feel
satisfied in having made it to this point.
I eat lunch on a small grassy knoll overlooking the bay. Rabbits hop from
burrow to burrow as I have my lunch. Several small, low islands lie just
offshore in the bay, and the Beagle Channel can be seen in the distance
between the headlands which narrow at the mouth of the bay. It is overcast,
though blue skies can be seen through the broken clouds. The temperature is
I start the bike and begin my ride back home, though I still have 6-8 months
of riding ahead of me, and lots more borders still to cross. Beam me home,
Scotty. Actually I wouldn't do that even if it were possible, since there
are still lots of places I want to see.
A couple of kilometers from the Bay I park the bike and hike in along the
Sendero de los Castores (Trail of the Beavers). A small stream meandered
through a grassy meadow full of dead beech trees, again killed when flooded
by the beaver ponds. There were signs of beavers all over, including dams,
piles of branches, and freshly gnawed tree trunks, still standing. However I
didn't see any beavers, though it was a beautiful hike. The sun came out near
the end, really bringing out the colors of the foliage on the surrounding
hills and mountainsides. It was too hot with my jacket on and I had to
I camp at Laguna Verde, one of 5 undeveloped sites in the park, and have my
tent set up by 5:30. By this time the skies have completely cleared, and it
is a gorgeous evening, probably the nicest since arriving on Tierra del
Fuego. My campsite is on a nice grassy area in a bend in the lake, and as
the evening progresses the fish begin to rise, feeding on small insects on
the lake surface. The sun sets directly behind Cerro Condor, looming to the
west. It is the first night the stars are completely unobscured, and it is a
As I go to bed, I tell myself that if it is nice and sunny in the morning, I
will ride back out to the end of the road, since it is such a short distance.
Wednesday March 26 70904
In the morning the weather was completely different than the night before.
Clouds had moved back in and a strong, gusty wind was blowing. Out of the
wind the temperature was a relatively warm 52F, but the wind made it much
colder, and really shook the tent. As they say, you can have all four
seasons in one day here in Tierra del Fuego.
I had a leisurely morning, sleeping in, then fixing breakfast, and didn't get
packed up, and on the bike till almost noon. Started the bike with the
kickstarter again, even though the battery monitor said the battery was good.
I rode back to the Confiteria at Laguna Roca, and retreated inside for a cup
of coffee and to write some postcards. There were more tour busses, and I
talked with an older English couple, visiting Tierra del Fuego for the first
time. Their daughter lives in Buenos Aires. He had been a Spitfire pilot
during WWII. Another young German woman had just finished an internship,
doing Spanish-German translation, in Buenos Aires as part of her college
studies, and was travelling through Argentina prior to returning to Germany.
She was travelling on an organized tour here in Tierra del Fuego and really
disliked the structured nature of it. She was particularly interested in my
computer and using it for email. It had started raining earlier and I waited
until it let up before leaving.
I rode back out along the main road to the trailhead for the Cerro Pampa Alta
(High Meadow Peak) trail to an overlook offering views out over the Beagle
Channel. Along the way the trail passed an area with several large beaver
dams and ponds. I watched quietly for a while but saw no activity and
continued on. The trail climbed up to an open, grassy, windswept knoll,
topped by a single, old, wind-gnarled tree. I ate my lunch sitting under the
tree, somewhat sheltered from the wind, while soaking in the spectacular
views across the Beagle Channel to the islands and mountains on the far side.
However the best, unobstructed views were from up in the tree itself, and I
shinnied up into its branches and held on against the gusting wind for a
couple of photos.
On the hike back I very quietly approached the beaver dam, and just as I was
about to give up and continue on I spotted a dark lump along the shore of one
of the smaller ponds. Sure enough it was a beaver! Beavers have a good
sense of smell, but relatively poor hearing and even poorer eyesight, and as
my luck would have it, I was downwind of the ponds. I slowly crept to within
3 feet of the pond's edge, and over the next 45 minutes watched as four
different beavers went about their business, oblivious to my presence. Two
swam to the shallow edge where there were tree branches close to the water
surface, and they chewed on the green shoots. I could clearly hear them
gnawing at the branches. Another made repeated trips to the dam, carrying
small branches which he deposited at various places along the dam, presumably
to plug small leaks. It was interesting to watch. When I finally left, I
made a point to make some noise to see their reaction. The nearest one
sensed my presence, slapped his tail, and all four disappeared under the
I originally thought I'd camp at Bahia Ensenada, but, though the bay was
picturesque, the campsite was some distance away from the water and was not
very nice. I decided to try the other site at Rio Pipo, not far away. It
turned out to be very nice. Situated in the valley of the Rio Pipo, between
large mountains on either side, the undeveloped campsite was in large grove
of trees set back from the river, and offered protection from the wind
blowing down from the mountains. The site was spread out over a large area
and I picked a spot well away from the one other tent I saw.
After dark I was somewhat annoyed when a car pulled in, its lights shining on
me as I ate, and dropped off a bunch of highschool-age kids and their gear
and then left. They set up camp nearby, but fortunately were out of sight
and were relatively quiet.
In contrast to the night before, tonight was cloudy and windy, and during the
night it rained off and on.